Lecture 8: Buddhist Dissent
Course: Introduction to Hinduism
Lecture: Buddhist Dissent
I don't recall the ??? but this is one of the great gifts of the Penguin Classic series. They've put so many of these Hindu documents into popular paperbacks. And this is a translation by Wendy Doniger of The Laws of Manu available through Penguin Classics. I don't know what it costs, but it was very reasonable – says here, 10 bucks. It's really amazing that this material is now in translation and is available. Also, we haven't yet discussed the epics, but the Ramayana, Mahabharata, are now available in a number of translations. There are many variations of these stories, but this one has been ... this particular one is a well-known one is in print, so many multiple printings. These famous epics of India are also available. So virtually everything we're talking about in this class is available in translation. And that makes it really nice.
In fact, a lot of the stories – which I think brings us back to our topic for today – a lot of the famous stories in the Western world that we grew up telling our children, originate in India, but in a very different context, because in the Indian context they weren't allowed – as you might imagine – you're not allowed to criticise the Brahmins. If you criticise the Brahmins, you can have your, you know, you can be burned alive or have terrible torture. So they were very, very clever – the Indians on this – because naturally everyone has had the same kind of feeling of being trapped by the Brahminical domination. So what they do, they created what is known as frame stories. India's the most famous example of producing frame story literature.
Now, what is a frame story? A frame story is where you have a story that's going along – here's like here's plot A, that usually involves people of some kind. Now, in the course of this story, the people in the story will meet an animal, typically an animal, who they will talk to. Or there will be some encounter with maybe somebody else in the story who talks about when they talk to animals or whatever. So what you'll have is, you know, the story that emerges inside of another story.
So here's a story about two people. One of these people tells the story of two animals. All right. So, in order to be very careful to protect the story, what will often happen is that the animals will tell a story. All right, so the animals will tell yet another story about, for example, a fox and a cat or whatever. And there's no question. Everybody knows that the fox represents the Brahmins, for example. All right, so they will tell a story, but you can't put the fox in the gaol, because the fox told the story. This guy's just telling a story about these animals who themselves told a story. So, you know, sometimes you have multiple frames, so you have stories ...
It's like the old thing about, you know, when we were growing up, it was a dark and rainy night. How does it go? It was a dark and rainy night. All the men gathered around the campfire. And one of the men said: "Captain, tell us a story." You know this? And the captain said: "It was a dark and stormy night and all the men gathered around the campfire and one of the men said: 'Captain, tell us a story'." And the captain says: "It was a dark and stormy night ... You know, and it goes on forever. And the whole point was ... And that's like a very unimaginative one. But the example is you have a story being told inside a story inside a story and it never ends. So we used to always tell it like 50 times and we all like died laughing. And that is at like boring youth retreats or something.
But India perfected this. As a matter of fact, when I was in Edinburgh doing my doctoral work, we read these stories. We translated a lot of them from Sanskrit because they're such powerful insights into the way Indian literature works and how groups are allowed to dissent in a non-democratic environment. And they often do it through story-telling. And so what happens is somewhere deep down in this frame, where you have a story being told by someone who tells a story about someone who tells a story – and you eventually have this story about a snake and a fox and a cat and so forth. Almost always it involves animals. And later on, this story gets taken out of the frames and taken into the Western world by people who are travelling and so forth. And these become the kind of basic building blocks of many of the stories in the ancient world, like the Grimm stories, those kind of stories that we grew up telling. A lot of these stories have origin in the frame stories of India. India's been called the storehouse of the world's stories – the world's story-tellers. Not to say that there wasn't plenty of innovation and impotent thinking on the part of Western writers. I'm just saying that there's a lot of ... a lot of work had been done demonstrating parallels and sources in Indian frame stories that were later brought out and used and retold in various other contexts. And these stories spread through the salcroute and came back to the Western world.
This is kind of one of the ways that the dissents take place. And this is what we're currently looking at with the Brahminical dissent. Yes?
Question: How ??? the significance of the fact that the stories are frame stories that they're being ??? to communicate dissent?
OK, because if I'd say to you: Once upon a time there was a Brahmin who was mistreating a Sudra. And I tell this very clever story that shows how the Sudra got back at the Brahmin. Then that's a story that could incite violence against you – because it's so overt. So what you do is, rather than telling a story that overtly, you tell about someone else who tells a story and so it makes you one step away from the story-telling. And then the next step away is by creating symbolic characters. Usually there are certain characters which typical represent the Brahmins – and you have like a crow or a fox represents the Brahmins. And then you have characters represent different, you know, people groups. And because it's animals, it also creates a little more of a buffer between the criticisms.
So these stories are definitely ... frame stories are almost always anti-Brahminical dissent stories in their original setting. And then when you dismantle them and bring them into the West, they can just be a story. But in its original context, many of these stories are dissent stories. And when I read these stories I was amazed. These were stories I heard as a child growing up and here I'd find these stories are embedded in ancient Indian story-telling in the midst of another like simple frames – had nothing to do with anything we ever heard about in our own story-telling. Does that make sense? OK.
Question: So what are some of those stories?
Like the story of the fox and the grape. You know that story? The story of the ... a lot of those ... I cannot remember now exactly cause I'm not very good at this kind of stuff. When my kids were young, I knew all these stories, but now I haven't told them in a while. When you read them, you know, you immediately recognise them. The point of them ... The best collections of these if you're interested, is a group of writings called The Punsatantra That's a collection of these stories. It's available in English. I don't know – I doubt our library has it – but it's a famous collection of these frame stories and you could read them.
OK. Any other questions or comments about the frame stories?
We are in the middle of this discussion of the Brahminical challenge – the voice of dissent by the Buddhist. We are trying to really, really streamline what we say about Buddhism in order to, as much as possible, keep our focus on Hinduism. But there's a few things we need to bring out and to emphasise.
So, last time we talked about the challenge of the Buddha. And there were several points we made about how that created dissent. The first big challenge was that he did not believe that moksa was caste-specific. So therefore we have a challenge against the Brahminical corner on moksa. Because Siddhartha Gautama was a Kshatriya, not a Brahmin.
Secondly, you can only have the emphasis ??? on caste but also you have the laying down of the eightfold path which is a singular way in which someone can follow. This creates a much more decided kind of marga than what we've seen in the past. This is a way to salvation. If you follow it, you'll be liberated of the wheel of Samsara.
The other big things which we, I think is now page ... lecture #8 here, is the challenging of the key insight of the Upanishads. And let's see if we can explore this a little bit. The Upanishads, as you will recall, the key insight was the identification of Atman with Brahman. Now, the Buddhists are going to deny Atman and Brahman – because the Buddhists say that the desire for self, for the preservation of self, is part of the attachments which lead to karmic bondage. And therefore the only way to be truly free from karmic predispositions, karmic bondage, is to recognise that there is no ultimate reality to the self.
Now what that means – and I hope you appreciate the ontological significance of the ??? challenge. Because in Hinduism – in many ways Hinduism is much closer to Christianity than either is to Buddhism – because at least in Christianity and Hinduism you have an ontology. In the Hindu system you have Brahman as the ontological basis for all that exists. This is reflected in the Atman which is the self that's in all of us. Our personal Atman is known as Jivatman – but the concept of Atman or soul is one with the essence of the universe. So, despite various descriptions about whether the world has little r reality, big r reality, and all that – this whole perceptual issue, snake and rope and all that – there's no fundamental denial that at the ba... behind everything there is some foundation – which is Brahman. That's basically Hinduism. So, Hinduism does have an ontological base.
In Buddhism you have the denial of Brahman and Atman. Now that creates a huge challenge for the Buddhist because they have to build a system. How do you explain the existence of anything if you don't have any first cause? So, in Buddhism you have the ... there are no first causes.
So instead of first causes, which would eliminate the possibility of a creator or any kind of beginning or whatever, instead they institute this doctrine – which I have on the handout here again just for your information, because we're trying to make a transition here, but we've got to have a few things in our minds – this doctrine of Pratitiya Samutpada. Now Pratitiya Samutpada is extremely important term. It can be translated as interdependent arising.
And the essential idea – and I even have a picture here to help you see it – is that there are actually 12 links which give rise to the nexus of the perception of existence and life. So, as this poem goes:
When this is that is,
this arising that arises,
when this is not that is not,
this ceases that ceases.
So the idea is because of these various 12 aggregates in the causal links. it gives rise to all the things that we see. So you can see, for example, there is ignorance, karmic predispositions, consciousness, name and form (that is, you have a name and we look at your bodies you have forms), five senses and the mind, contact, feeling and response, craving/desire, grasping for an object, action toward life, rebirth, old age and death. So each of these things give rise to the other.
So you say where does ... if you want to start in the middle of this at number 4 – where does name and form come from? What do I call myself Tim Tennent? Why do I have this form and this body? Well, it's because it was given rise by consciousness. Where does consciousness come from? It comes from karmic predispositions? Where does that come from? It comes from ignorance. Where does that come from? It comes from ... it's passed over from the transmigration – when I get old and I die then migration goes to the next thing, goes back to rebirth. Everything goes back. So this everything is linked to everything else.
So essentially you have a perception of reality which is actually a web of misperceptions which independently arise. That's why it's called interdependent arising. This is how you explain the existence of the world without any kind of ontology.
Now, I'm going through this very rapidly because I don't want us to dwell on it too much. But, I want at least make sure we understand the basic idea behind it. What you have on this chart here is a very ancient picture of this by a very ancient Buddhist author. And essentially this is the wheel of Samsara that's being held together by this demon god Mara. But Mara ... this is a ... Mara is not some kind of transcendent Brahman figure. This is just the way it's depicted – impermanence, death. That's the wheel of Samsara.
So you can see that when somebody dies and goes to heaven or hell … You can see that, in the inner circle, heaven and hell are there. This is all part of the wheel of Samsara. So you don't really have any transcendent ontology that transcends the wheel of Samsara. In fact, there are two major schools of thought in Buddhism, two major philosophical schools which we will not explore. But one of them ... both of them are dealing with what is the basis of reality. One argues that the basis of reality is what they call nothingness or emptiness. So there's ... they deny all ontology and they argue there is no ontology. Essentially both argue there's no ontology. But the other school of thought says that the only reality that exists is in your mind – because if you didn't have mind, you couldn't make these arguments. You couldn't have a logical conversation about it. So they argue that sita, which is mind, is the storehouse of consciousness through which reality exists. But in either case, whether it's in your mind or this concept of sunyata, or nothingness, emptiness, there is no ontology that a Christian would recognise – from a Christian point of view, a Christian worldview, or a Hindu worldview – would recognise as any kind of foundation upon which the system is built. That's what makes Buddhism Buddhism.
So I had this very open exchange with a man in ETS this past year and I gave a paper on Buddhist ethics. And I was basically saying that because Buddhist ethics operates without an ontology, you can't make any fundamental distinction between the one who, you know, shows mercy and the one who receives mercy. There was one very ornery man in the crowd who doesn't like this. And we had this big debate about it and he kept saying: "Well, you know, who are you to say that Buddhism has no ontology?" Well, I'm not trying to say it. That's what the Buddhists say. But then he keeps pressing the point and he says he doesn't like the fact that I'm prepared to define Buddhism in these terms. Now, the room is full of scholars. Everybody in the whole room is perfectly happy with the paper ??? exactly what I was saying. This one guy was very ornery. You always have this in these ETS crowds. So we went back and forth about it.
He came to me afterwards and he said: "I thought your paper was great. I just don't like the fact that you tried to define Buddhism – because Buddhism is so amorphous." Well, you know, all these things are amorphous. You already know that already. But the problem is if you try to – as some people do, even some Buddhists try to do today, and he's right – if you try to import an ontology into Buddhism because of various kinds of crises that this worldview develops and it does and over time all kinds of things happen in Buddhism. But what actually happens is you are no longer a Buddhist. You may call yourself a Buddhist, but you're actually not a true Buddhist. Now, this is the point that he didn't like. Because he said: "Well, somebody calls himself a Buddhist, who are we to say you're not a Buddhist?" And I said: "But wait a minute. Any movement has the right to draw their own boundaries." There are many people who call themselves Christians who walk around and believe they are Christians, but by historic standards, they cannot be called Christians. For example, if you deny the resurrection of Christ, you can't be a Christian. You may call yourself a Christian, but you are sub-Christian. You're working ... you're operating in a sub-category of some kind. You are being ... you're operating as a Christian in a category that is not historically recognised. So, with Hinduism and with Buddhism, you have all kinds of people who try to tweak things into a way to create some kind of ontology, but by doing so they deny the fundamental insight of Buddhism – which is denial of Brahman, Pratitiya Samutpada. This is basic to all Buddhist thought. So that's the first point. We have a basic denial of Hindu ontology.
All right. Any questions about that before we carry on? Any thoughts about ... without getting into a huge discussion of Buddhism ... mainly just recognise how different Buddhist worldview is than a Hindu worldview and part of the reason I bring this up is to show how difficult it is for Hinduism to absorb Buddhism into it because it's such a major challenge to the Hindu worldview?
Question: Is one of the main tenets of Buddhism that it's all experiential and to try to define it or think about it is something lesser?
I'm not actually following you in what you're saying. Are you saying that the Buddhists believe that the only reality that we can experience is embedded in our experience? Is that what you're saying?
Question: The only true experience of Buddhism is to be a Buddhist and experience it and not to think about it and talk about it and classify it.
OK. No, that would only be a particular school of Buddhist thought that would argue that. So, you have a number of Buddhist ... different ideas about how to talk or not talk about reality. So, for example, there are some groups that advocate very strongly the importance of deep philosophical meditation and so for others ??? very, very ??? I mean, there's this group called the Sansan who believe that you shouldn't have the enlightenment in the course of your ordinary life. So you should not take time to think about it, to promote enlightenment. So, say you'll be sweeping the floor one day and you'll just have the enlightenment and you'll realise the truth of Buddhism. ??? will argue for deep kinds of almost torturous reflections and meditations. So it depends on the school of Buddha.
One of the groups advocates the sitting meditation, where you're there meditating on this ... what they call suchness, the Zen master will come up to you and quietly sneak up behind you while you're meditating and he'll cut off one of your fingers. And what happens is the immediate flash of pain that occurs when someone ... your teacher cuts your finger off. I've never tried this at Gordon Cornwell. That would create such a powerful moment of enlightenment that you would gain the insight of the Buddha.
There's another famous Zen saying that says ... I love ... I used this in my book ... if you meet the Buddha on the road, you should kill him. I love that saying – Zen saying. If you should meet the Buddha on the road, you should kill him – because the whole point is that the Buddha, the historical Buddha, means nothing. All that matters is the ideas that he embodies – the dharma.
Buddhism is a fascinating religion. You should in the fall come and take the class. You already have ... if you already know Pratitiya Samutpada then you've got a big step ahead of everybody else.
So, to give you an example of the fact that the middle, which is the Buddhist kind of conception of reality that everything's in the middle, is that the eightfold path is this way. So you have this idea of OK here is a person trudging along, you know, going through the eightfold path. It could take thousands of lifetimes and all that. Listen to this Buddhist saying. Misery only exist, but none miserable. Do you hear that? Misery exists, but nobody miserable. No doer is there, but the deeds are found. Nirvana is there, but not the man who seeks it. The eightfold path exists, but not the traveller on it. So you have the eightfold path, but there's actually no true traveller on the path. You have misery in the world, but there's nobody who's actually miserable. Because if you say there's a body who's miserable or you say there's a traveller on the road, then you have to admit ontology. And there's no ontology in Buddhism. So this is a very tricky thing.
Now, the importance of this from the Hindu concept is that, after some time, there was a further dissent within Buddhism itself that sought to say that in fact the Buddhist dissent was not enough of a dissent because, according to the current scheme, the only way you could ever make it through the eightfold path was if you were a Buddhist monk – what they call an arhat. So you had to be a Buddhist monk or a Buddhist nun – and they have nuns – in order to escape from the wheel of Samsara. Well, that ended up being, effectively, another form of Brahmincal kind of, you know, closure – because it's like the Brahmins who say you can only achieve moksa if you're Brahmin. And then the Buddhists come along and say: "O, anybody can become enlightened, but you have to follow the eightfold path and if you're a lay person you can never get past the second step of the eightfold path." You can't ever go past step 2. And it's the eightfold path. How do you get to step 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and go into moksa or go into nirvana? Well, the only answer to that was you had to devote yourself more completely to meditation and so forth which creates the possibility of what they call a sanka community – which is a monastic community.
So, early Buddhism was a monastic community and if you've been to Varanasi. Did you go to Varanasi? Did you go to Varanasi when you were there? Anybody here been to Varanasi? Some of you been to India? Varanasi is the ... it's like the Mecca. Mecca is to Muslims, Jerusalem is to Jews, Varanasi is to Hindus. This is the place where, in the Ganges valley, in the state of Uttar Pradesh, where the official sacred fire is there from Vedic times – that's in Varanasi where the body cremations take place. All of this is all seen in the city of Varanasi. The British call it Benares. In that same town is where Buddhists established their first monastery. And so, if you have to become a monk, which they call an arhat, then that created another kind of exclusive community.
So there was a lay movement within Buddhism that began to challenge this and to say: "We really believe that enlightenment could be possible apart from the monastic ideal." And this group, they're known as the Great Assemblyites or the Mohasangitas who believe that even a lay person could achieve enlightenment. And so this creates another very powerful challenge within the Buddhist worldview. And, so what happens is, they believe ... what they argue is that the Buddha when he was there at Varanasi, he turns the wheel of dharma. OK, remember ... what does the word dharma mean in a Buddhist context? What's it mean in a Hindu context? What's the word dharma mean.
OK dharma is like truth and in a Buddhist context dharma is the teaching of Buddha. It's called the dharma. So, what happens is, he turns the wheel of dharma, and the result are the four noble truths and the eightfold path. OK, that's what I have on the handout earlier. You had the four noble truths, the eightfold path. The gist of the four noble truths is that when you have this causal link of Pratitiya Samutpada there's one weak link. If you look at the chart on page 2 of the handout of the karmic wheel there – what is number 8? What is link 8?
Desire. The gist of the four noble truths is that desire is the weak link. If you can cause your desires to cease, then the whole chain breaks. If the chain breaks, the whole nexus of the phenomenal world goes into nothingness. It completely goes into emptiness – sunyata. So, this whole monastic life is focused on eliminating desire. It's focused on number 8. How do you eliminate desire in someone's life?
So, for example, Buddha was once asked: "What is nirvana?" And his answer was this – very, very insightful into the Buddhist worldview. He said: "Nirvana is like someone who has an oil lamp and they no longer put any oil into it. And eventually the flame gets lower and lower and lower and then just becomes a whiff smoke and it's out." He says: "The whiff of smoke – that's nirvana." The idea being the oil represents desires. As long as you have desires that feeds into your life – you have desires, you reach, you grasp for things, you think you have self, form, body, name – it creates all the nexus of the phenomenal world. If you can eliminate all desire, then the whole thing can collapse into nothingness. So that was largely believed to be the monastic ideal.
This other group of this laity challenged the monks, just the way Buddha had challenged the Brahmins, and said that they believe that when Buddha turned the wheel the first time out came the four noble truths, the eightfold path – but they believe he turned the wheel a second time and created new doctrines and that's what's important for us to look at. Yes.
Question: What I think I just heard you say ??? is that ultimately the goal of the Buddhist is to get rid of this whole cycle, this wheel of life. As opposed to the Hindu goal to be released from it, the Buddhist goal, what you described there to get rid of desire, is to destroy that ???
Right. I want to be very careful because I'm not sure how careful you're being in the precise wording, but when we're talking about destroying, we're not talking about destroying something that exists. We're talking about the realisation that this thing does not exist. So there's no ontology to the wheel either, but ... OK, but yeah, the elimination of the wheel, the wheel falls apart.
There's no question there's a major difference. The question is: What is the point where the major difference strikes home the most? And I think, it seems to me at least, that the major point of difference is that for the Hindu, the moksa is tied fully into becoming in union with Brahman, which is the ontology. Whereas in the Buddhist context, the release from the wheel of Samsara is going into emptiness or nothingness. There's a lot of debate in Buddhism, which we don't have time to discuss, whether you should translate the word emptiness or nothingness. But, we'll just for our purposes, keep both these terms out there. Sunyata – emptiness, nothingness. So in that sense, that is a huge difference – because one has ontology, one doesn't.
That's nirvana – nirvana's not a place. It's not like, you know, going to heaven. All the heaven and hell talk in Buddhism is inside the wheel of Samsara. It's part of the nexus. It's part of the illusion.
But what happens is these ... this lay people have several, what they believe, insights that come from the second turning of the wheel. That first turn of the wheel is that the Buddha taught some secret things that he didn't teach. This was his public teaching. He also gave some private teaching. It's a classic Eastern approach. So, it's like OK there's like the standard, you know, communities in the faith, but then there's like some private things that a few of you get initiated into. So it creates kind of a gnostic distinction. So, once you have secret things, you have live insights into this text that you don't have. They argue that Buddha was not just a teacher, he was a divine figure. Now, that creates all kinds of things. Well, in what way is he divine? And what does this mean? So, that's something we'll have to let's just hang on the hanger for now, because we won't have time to look at that in this class.
But the third thing – and this is probably the most important – is that Siddhartha Gautama was not the only Buddha. Now, traditional Buddhism has always taught that Siddhartha Gautama was the one and only enlightened being in the history of the world. Siddhartha Gautama achieved this enlightenment. He alone is the Buddha. There's only one Buddha and that's Siddhartha Gautama. So if you're in a place like Sri Lanka, any place that has what's called Theravada Buddhism – that is the classic monastic Buddhism that affirms the enlightenment of the Buddha, the historical nature of the Buddha, and all that. But 85% of Buddhists are not that. So we're talking about a pretty major movement. 85% of Buddhists are following this lay movement.
Because what happened is, when they introduced this doctrine of the idea of man,. many Buddhas. If Buddha came once, why couldn't he have come before? Why couldn't he come again? Why aren't there many enlightened beings? OK, once you introduce that idea, then it creates all kinds of fundamental shifts. So what they do is they persecute this group and they run them out of India. So, they travel the salcroute all the way to China and Japan and Korea and they bring Buddhism with them. So, essentially what happens is, because they're persecuted by the Indian Buddhism, they become the missionaries and they export their version of Buddhism all over the world. That's very important. So essentially you have … what a true-blue Buddhist would say, a heresy of Buddhism, which is propagated as Buddhism around the world. So, today, the ... what they call it now is Mahayana Buddhism.
Now, Mahayana as opposed to Theravada – let me just give you the meaning of these terms. Theravada means the way of the elders, which, of course, you can imagine, this is talking about, you know, the original, conservative group of people who are monastic leaders who believe in a certain way – Theravada. The maha – what does maha mean?
Great. What's yana mean? It means ... anybody know?
Vehicle. Right. Very good. Great vehicle. So, what they're saying this is the great vehicle. This ... they renamed Theravada and what is known as today, as Hinayana. That's often what it goes by today. Hinayana means little vehicle. Hinayana. Mahayana. Little vehicle. Big vehicle. This way only brings little people to enlightenment – just a few, small groups of people who have become monks. Mahayana – everybody can get inside. They can all be liberated. So this is like, OK, if this ??? so much like the Reformation, you know, where you've got an insight that occurs and there are people who say: "Hey, you didn't listen to your own teaching. You didn't go far enough. Let's really bring out the implications of this." So the Mahayana I think in seed form is there from the beginning in the dissent – but it totally overturns the apple cart. So, what eventually develops is what becomes the key insight of Mahayana.
And, of course, the key insight of Theravada is this monkhood – arhat – is the idea of a Bhodisattva. This is the point I wanted to get to because this is the issue that Indian Hinduism has to respond to. A Bhodisattva – the word sat we know from Sat Cit Ananda – what does the word sat mean?
Being. OK, that's it. Very good. Being. Bhodi – I'm not sure we discussed it – but the word bhodi is the word for enlightenment. The Buddha – this is a very important word in the east. Bhodi means enlightened. So this is an enlightened being. Tva is a suffix that they put on the end of things – one who has been enlightened. An enlightened being – Bhodisattva. We call it now this Bhodisattva.
Now a Bhodhisattva is a being that comes on behalf of others to enlighten the human race. So the Budda is now one of multitudes of Bhodisattvas. So essentially you create this new universe of deities that can assist and help and transform and all the rest. So the way these Bhodisattvas occur – and I think I've mentioned this last time, kind of preparing us for this point – is that a person goes through the eightfold path. They go through the four noble truths. They accept the four noble truths. They follow this arduous path. They become monks. They go through the whole process of Theravada. But then, they finally get, after hundreds of lifetimes – they've been reborn and reborn and reborn – moving up the chain of … karmic chain of life till they're finally released from the wheel of Samsara. But, when they get to the point of being released from Samsara and going into nirvana, at the point when they can step off the wheel, they choose to step back on the wheel.
Now this is a ... you've got to see the power of this in terms of how this affects the whole Indian worldview – because, in India, karmic life is always totally individualistic. There is no way that anybody can do anything for you; cannot affect you in any way. Everyone's karma is individualised. So, the idea of somebody assisting you or helping you is a huge theological doorway that creates the possibility of ethics which was largely absent from Hinduism.
Even today, you know, I've been in Haridwar or Varanasi, and you see there hundreds of beggars. They're begging and – I may have mentioned this to you before where people won't ... people refuse to give because they're there because they deserve to be there. The law of karma cannot be unjust. There's nobody is experiencing anything they've not deserved to experience. And yet, when the person dies – when a person, a beggar, in India dies. OK, here's a person, they won't ... people will not give ... the tourists give them money. All the Western missionaries give them money. All the tourists coming through give plenty of money. That's why they beg. But the Hindus will not give. When the person dies, they will cover their body with coins – after they're dead, because that's good karma. That's a very pathetic ethical context.
So, here's Buddhism, which creates the idea that somebody is willing to forgo their enlightenment or their final moksa, forgo their interest into the state of nirvana, come back onto the wheel of suffering – come back and visit people who are caught up in ignorance, dispositions, consciousness, name and form, all this – and teach them and help them to be delivered from the wheel of Samsara creates a very powerful thing.
Of course, from a point of view of Christianity, this is hugely important, because this is fundamental to Christian theology. Jesus Christ suffers vicariously for those who benefit from His work on the cross. So, the Buddhist dissent creates for the first time in India the possibility of vicarious suffering being seriously discussed and debated in Indian circles. This simply wasn't part of their worldview.
All right, so once you have a Bhodisattva, an enlightened being, then suddenly – and this is, there are plenty of believing, plenty of Mahayana people that get infiltrated in India as a backlodge from this – they eventually overwhelm the Theravadans who relocate to place in south-east Asia. If you're in places like some parts of Thailand and Cambodia and Sri Lanka and so forth, you have the original Theravada Buddhism. But the impact from Mahayana is really felt all over the world. And so, the result is the Hindus have to find a way to absorb it. And the only way to absorb it is to deal with the possibility of gods, deities, that can function kind of like the Bhodisattvas – kind of like saviour figures. Because one of the things that happens in Buddhism is that these Bhodisattvas can be known personally. You can pray to them. You can meditate on them. You can enter into a relationship with them. So it creates all these possibilities for a relationship with god or with a deity that was impossible with Brahman because of this whole nirguna saguna thing.
So, in India there was no ... this was like a closed sphere. So no one could really know god. Now, Buddhism challenged all that. So the result is the emergence of a movement in India known as Bhaktism where you have the ... really emergence of many, many new emphasis and stories on the role of Hindu deities and gods and goddesses that can perform all kinds of feats and create new possibilities for what Hinduism looks like.
OK, questions or comments about this. Yes.
Question: If there's no traveller on the eightfold path, ??? no self and no personhood, it doesn't seem to mention the idea of personally relating to a saviour figure?
Yeah, if you think that the Bhodisattva has any ultimate personhood then, of course, you've misunderstood this because ??? does not. So the Bhodisattva is merely at the point ... or the Bhodisattva recognises that there is no self, but he or she chooses to stay encrusted with the false notion of self temporarily to help. Now, one of the problems that in fact I bring out in my book, is that the Bhodisattva, of course, is just as much in need of salvation as the person they're seeking to save. Because anybody that's encrusted in the reality of self is a part of this whole illusion. So the Bhodisattva is not ... does not have any ontology. It's still very much Buddhist.
But it has a functional ontology. The Bhodisattva operates functionally as a transcendent being because, if you look at the wheel of Samsara, you have this heaven and hell. So, for example, the most dominant form of Mahayana Buddhism in China is Pureland Buddhism. Now what ... to give you a little snapshot of this, the Pureland Buddhists are very fascinated with the possibilities of a particular Bhodisattva known as Amitabha – or Amida Buddha. Now what they say is that Amida Buddha went through all this process and all that, got to the point of enlightenment, and he took several vows. He took 48 vows. One of these vows was: Do not let me be enlightened unless, after I'm enlightened, anyone who calls on my name will also be enlightened. OK, he was enlightened.
So this creates: O now this is wonderful because now they had this doctrine called nembutsu which means, if you recite the name of that Buddha, you will be enlightened. It's like the fast track. No hundreds of lifetimes toiling through monastic life. You simply say: "Please remember me Amitahba Buddha." Now they torture this into well, have you really said it with a pure heart? You know, some people say you've got to say it so many times, like thousands of times, like you go round: Amitabha, Amitabha, Amitabha, Amitabha. They have these prayer wheels, where you'll pay somebody. You'll put the name into the prayer wheel. And so every time you turn the prayer wheel one time it means ... it's as if you've prayed that prayer. So you hire somebody to all day long – jung, jung, jung, jung. All right. So there's no end to the way all this permeates out.
But, the basic idea though is that this person, this enlightened being, is still in that heaven. He's not out here in some transcendent being place. Even heaven and hell, they'll say: "I want to die and go to the pure land to be with Amitabha." But the whole pure land, which is like the great paradise, is inside the wheel of Samsara. So that's why it is Buddhism. This is the knowledge they use to answer that question. They say: "You're right – if you're asking the question: Is there any fundamental reality to a self who chooses, who doesn't choose, and all that, you're right – it doesn't exist." But, they say: "If you are caught in this raging storm or a raging river, and you're trying to get over to the shore of enlightenment. Someone comes along with a raft. You get on the raft and the raft helps you get across to the bank, to the other shore. Once you get to the shore, what do you do with the raft? You chuck it because it's of no value – because it has no meaning. Once you get across ... all that matters is getting across."
So what they say is that all of this Bhodisattva thing, though it has no ultimate reality, it is like a raft. It helps you get across the rivers of suffering. In Buddhism, you have to talk about the distinction between ontological reality (which truly has ontological base) and functional reality ontology (what happens on a functional basis that operates effectively like an ontology). So a Buddhist can talk about dying and going to heaven. And so they long for this deity, they worship this deity – all that functions and satisfies their religious needs as if it was an ontology, even though it's not an ontology. It's a functional, not a real, ontology.
I can just tell you're going to run to the nearest temple and become a Buddhist. It'd take a lot more time to develop, you know maybe, this in a more comprehensive way, but I'm just trying mainly at this point to introduce the concept of Bhodisattva. Because unless you understand the Bhodisattva concept and the major challenge this was – how this creates all kinds of new possibilities religiously in people's lives – then it's difficult to see what happens when this gets absorbed into Hinduism. I mean, the amazing thing is, and I won't discuss in this class, but the amazing thing is when they do absorb Buddhism back into Hinduism, how this is just changed and you have this kind of deities operating with an ontology on top of it.
And it creates problems for the problem of evil. In Paul Lim's class today, I'm lecturing on theodicy in Hinduism Buddhism. It creates really fascinating ways that the problem of evil is worked out in Buddhism and Hinduism.
Any other questions or comments about this kind of very brief sprint from the emergence of Buddhism to the Mahayana dissent – Because that's kind of the backdrop to developing Bhaktism.
Question: At a practical level, ??? you're rushing through all this, how much are you expecting ???
The only thing I want you to be aware of is how Buddhism serves to create this new emergence in Hinduism. That's the main thing. I think you should know what a Bhodisattva is. And I think you should be aware of how the ... that Buddhism is different from Hinduism on this final page which I want to go to now. But, other than that, I wouldn't worry about any of the Buddhist concepts.
Buddhism is a very fascinating religion and I really ... it's kind of definitely worth studying. And I think that if ... like everything else, what I'm hoping you're seeing is that we really don't have an entity called Hinduism. This is a misnomer. This is a reification. You know the term reification where essentially you have Western scholarship that has tried to make sense of this multiple religious strands and it gets amalgamated into a religious system called Hinduism. This is called the reification of religion.
So, what's happened in this class is that we are looking at these various strands and how they relate to each other. So up to this point, what we've really explored is not so much Hinduism as Brahminism. Right now we've discovered that Brahminical kind of strand of things. We'll come back to it more later. So, Brahminism is a very important part of the Hindu puzzle because everything is either controlled by that or reacting against that. So Brahminicalism is really, really important. We are also going to be looking at the whole Bhakti movement, which another one of these very important, multifaceted strands. And even within the Bhakti movement, each of these could be viewed as separate religions.